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Sudanese hard-liners meet under Arab Spring pressure

KHARTOUM: Thousands of government-linked hard-liners met in Sudan yesterday, under pressure from Arab Spring-inspired reformers who say the Islamic setup has drifted from its religious foundations.
Reformers say corruption and other problems have left the vast African nation’s government Islamic in name only, and question how much longer President Omar Bashir should remain in office.
But those calling for change lack the power to impose their views, and their hopes for the three-day meeting will be dashed, predicted Khalid Tigani, an analyst and chief editor of the weekly economic newspaper Elaff.
“So this may lead to a new split” in the Islamic Movement.
Sudan’s hard-liners divided more than a decade ago when Hassan Al-Turabi, a key figure behind the 1989 coup, broke with Bashir and formed the Popular Congress opposition party.
The Islamic Movement, a social group at the heart of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP), is holding its first national conference since uprisings and civil war began driving out authoritarian leaders around the region in 2011.
More than 170 foreign hard-liners have joined 5,000 local delegates, many wearing traditional white jalabiya robes and turbans, for the conference which opened with prayer.
While hard-liners gained power through democratic elections in Egypt and Tunisia after the Arab Spring uprisings, a coup 23 years ago installed Sudan’s hard-line regime — and it is still there.
Among the great challenges facing the country’s Islamic Movement “is how to restore the confidence in the new generation,” an editorial in the English-language The Citizen said yesterday.
“The movement has to unify itself by all means,” the paper said, calling for adherence to “Islamic values” and a fight against corruption, nepotism, tribalism and other ills which, critics say, are products of the current government.
It is a “corrupt dictatorship, cruel dictatorship,” said Turabi, who does not want Bashir’s regime associated with Islam.
Amin Hassan Omer, from the Islamic Movement’s ruling secretariat, said he expects such comments from critics but it is “nonsense” to suggest there is widespread dissatisfaction among younger hard-liners over corruption.
Omer said reformers would be disappointed despite “a general sense of urgency for change” in the Islamic Movement, including the need for a younger leadership.
One possible candidate to head the movement is Ghazi Salaheddine, a former presidential adviser. Writing in Al-Sudani newspaper ahead of the meeting, Salaheddine said the Islamic Movement should be independent of the government.
While only about 12 percent of NCP members come from the Islamic Movement, most of the party leadership belongs to the movement, said Omer, a state minister in the presidency. The Islamic Movement is simply a tool used by those in power to continue controlling the government “in the name of Islam,” said Tigani.
Tigani sees potential candidates to replace Bashir jostling for influence within the movement.

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